Can Earth survive Bush?

The proof is out there: Biologists report that in recent years wildlife in Yosemite Park have moved to higher elevations to escape increasing temperatures; the currents that carry heat along the so-called Atlantic Ocean conveyor belt are slowing down, threatening to turn Europe into an arctic wasteland and further strengthen the tropical storms that blow into the United States’ Gulf Coast; Greenland’s ice sheet is melting causing the ocean levels to rise.

Earlier this month a two-week United Nations summit on global warming was held in Montreal. It was designed to build on the Kyoto Accord established in 1997. In the end the meeting in Montreal accomplished two things. The forty developed nations bound by the Kyoto protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5 percent sometime between 2008 and 2012 have agreed to a process for even deeper cuts to follow. The United States, of course, is not a member of that group, even though we are the greatest single contributor to global warming. We pulled out of the accord the very day George W. Bush took office, the first in a long series of steps to undo environmental commitments made by the Clinton administration.

The meeting in Montreal also established that all countries, including the United States, will begin a dialogue on further ways to cut greenhouse gasses. But in order to get America on board, the dialogue had to be non-binding with no deadlines or objectives. We suppose that even a small and insignificant commitment to protecting the future of life on earth is better than none at all.

The Bush administration believes future technology, not conservation, will save us from global warming, a scientific theory it has only recently (and reluctantly) begun to accept. Global warming is triggered by greenhouse gases. While water vapor is the most common greenhouse gas, the three others that are increasing due to human activity are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide presents the biggest problem because it is produced by the burning of wood, natural gas, coal, furnace oil and gasoline.

If there is anything the Bush administration is dedicated to in this world, it is the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels. This administration, which has oil in its blood, objects to committing the country to reduced greenhouse gas emissions because of the potential economic costs. That argument has become disingenuous in the wake of the destruction and resulting costs to rebuild the Gulf Coast in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

As one American scientist said in Montreal, we need to be patient; 15 minutes after the Bush administration is termed out, the United States will return to reality and accept our responsibilities as a member of the global community. Until then, we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.